Freshly baked pies, holiday cookies, hot chocolate, and candy canes are common holiday treats. But just as adults pack on the pounds around the holidays, so can the kids. Denying a child from partaking in sugary confections may seem like an easy fix during the holidays, but that’s easier said than done. With so many festive parties that include desserts, candies, and fat-laden foods, it is better to teach your child moderation and how to make healthy choices. Dr. Dyan Hes, Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics, offers advice to parents to allow children a little indulgence, but while maintaining a healthy diet during the holiday season.
“I believe in moderation, not stringent restriction which can create an unhealthy relationship with food,” says Dr. DyanHes, Medical Director at Gramercy Pediatrics. “I specialize in childhood obesity and while I don’t condone binging on desserts and candy, I also don’t recommend denying your child treats during the holidays. Instead, limit how much your child consumes.”
Dr. Hes offers some tips to help make the holidays a bit healthier for your children and even for parents:
1. Teach your Child Portion Control when Choosing from the Dessert Table – “Often there are multiple desserts on a holiday table. By allowing your child to choose their favorite, not only gives them a sense of freedom in their food choices, but also teaches portion control and limitations,” recommends Dr. Hes. If your child wants to taste several desserts, then give them a small taste of each one, that equals one serving. “If a child is completely denied a dessert, it will only make them want it more.”
2. Keep Sugary Drinks to a Minimum – The holidays are the perfect time to break out the sparkling cider and hot cocoa. But just as adults need to watch their consumption of highly caloric beverages, so should kids. A 12oz hot chocolate with whipped cream can have up to 400 calories and about 40 grams of sugar! Dr. Hes recommends keeping an eye on how many “holiday beverages” your child is consuming during meals and parties. “Make hot chocolate from low sugar instant mixes and use reduced fat (light) whipped cream or skip it entirely,” says Dr. Hes. “There is also a ton of sugar in fruit juice, and although sparkling cider is fun, limit your child to one glass to celebrate.”
3. Lead by Example – Children learn eating habits from their parents. Don’t use the holidays as an excuse to overindulge, but as another touch point to teach kids healthier eating habits. If you are piling up on desserts, your child will think it is acceptable. Make sure to load your plates with lots of veggies during dinner and limit the sweets to one after the meal.
4. Create Healthier Food Traditions – Much of the holidays are focused on food and many families have special dishes that have become traditions. Those “traditional dishes” are often highly caloric and filled with fat. Grandmother’s sausage stuffing, or Aunt Sara’s cheesy casserole might be a “must” for every holiday meal, but they can also expand the waist quickly. Instead, Dr. Hes recommends creating new healthier favorites that are reserved only for the holidays and get kids excited to see them on the table. We make chopped salad (Mediterranean style) that everyone loves and always have fruit salad as a dessert option.
5. Non-Food Activities – Food may play an important role in the holidays, but adding other fun into the festivities takes the focus off eating. Kids love games, making arts and crafts, decorating the house, acting out stories, and loads of other activities that can involve the whole family. Be creative and come up with something that is unique and special to your family’s holiday traditions.
6. Movement – Get your families moving. It’s great to play outside while the food is cooking, just be sure to bundle your kids up. The whole family can take a brisk walk after a big feast. The kids get a big kick out of carrying flashlights and going out for a walk in the dark! Have games set up at home that the kids can play like jump rope or hula hoop competitions that they can do indoors.
Dr. DyanHes is the Medical Director of Gramercy Pediatrics in New York City and sits on the board of the American Board of Obesity Medicine. She earned her medical degree at the American Program of the Sackler School of Medicine at the University of Tel Aviv and completed her residency in Social Pediatrics at New York’s Albert Einstein School of Medicine, Montefiore Medical Center. She currently serves as Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.